A Love Letter to Antonia Crane

So we know I adore Antonia but this will be a combo review and love letter.

I’m having a very emotional week for a lot of reasons and I just finished reading Spent: A Memoir.

Wow.

Okay first of all the hardback is really physically beautiful. For my fellow tactile book nerds, the cover has this beautiful artwork and is glossy. It feels nice under the finger tips and the little half dust cover is gorgeous.

And then you open it and start reading.

As soon as you start reading, you realize that this memoir is not tidy. It is not full of sunshine and flowers. It is not a story of a woman who dabbled in the dark and ran from it. While I was reading I was thinking of Antonia’s big beautiful smile and the prior readings of her words and I fucking got it.

You can see in her work that there is a sparkle in her eye and a knowing that you’re going for a ride.

In this book Antonia does not pretend.  She is naked in a way that is so important to me when I read memoir by other women especially sex workers and others who have been through it.

I personally cannot connect to women’s writing that sticks to the sunny and immediately redemptive. I can’t connect emotionally or (in my case) want to sit down and talk to a person who peers into the dark and skips away unscathed.

Antonia got scathed.

She wrote that shit like her life depended on it and even though I don’t know her super well, I’m going to assume her life did depend on it.

Now, I have been waiting for this book since the first time I saw her writing way back on The Rumpus. She had no book deal and I (sorry Antonia if I got creepy) followed her around the internet to get sips of her words. Even from the bits and bobs I read, I knew here is one of my people.

There is a power for me in coming across women who however they do it just take my heart. How they talk to and about other women. Certain styles of sex work writing. There are let’s call them (forgive my woowooness) vibes I get that make my say yes.

Now let’s talk about sex work memoir as a genre.

Back when sex bloggers/workers were the it thing in publishing and I was a semi sex blogger myself, there was a big explosion of shiny books written by madams, hookers, strippers etc.

For me during that time up through now the genre itself was lacking. I read them in a fairly greedy manner and after two or three I realized that the predominant narrative was fairly standard.

A lot of those stories were either handjobs to redemption and ‘saving’ from a illicit life. The heavy handed I AM FEMINIST THEREFORE I DO WHAT I WANT, the pretty White girl going to college and venturing into stripping to boost her self esteem etc.

The tragic was covered, the Red Shoe Diary salacious type semi stroke material.

What was missing to me was the grit. I have known and loved many sex workers in the last (I’m gonna round it out) 15 years give or take. From a beloved crack whore who taught me incredibly valuable life lessons, to peep show workers, strippers, high cost escorts and in talking to a lot of them and living some of it myself when I did a bit of sex work back in the day, the struggle in those stories was missing.

There was often the struggle to reconcile religious or feminist beliefs with sex work but not the how the fuck am I gonna pay my rent, how the fuck do I get out, where do I go from here type narrative.

A lot of sex work memoirs are designed more to give the reader a sense of satisfaction at the end that while sex work is glamorous and full of money and presents, it’s way better to retire gracefully into wifedom or something.

That doesn’t do it for me as a reader or as someone who has not really seen that happen.

Antonia’s book is full of the grit. Her writing is silky and funny, it is rough and gut wrenching but it is not glossy. There is terror. The way she writes about her Mother’s illness and death is going to haunt me.

That is why I love her and her work. I honestly cannot stand writing that seems too shiny. When people write about terrible things but there is a everything turns out in the end gloss. I have a thing about that.

This is not a Red Shoe Diary stroke memoir.

It is sexy but not fap material.

This is real and raw.

Antonia’s work is naked and glorious.

Spent is the kind of book I will return to because writing that is so full of power and beauty moves me. It makes me feel at home. It makes me feel a sense of community when I feel like I’m drowning in suburban bundt cakey blandness.

I am so deeply terribly thankful that I found Antonia’s work.

So before I start blubbering.

This book is fucking fantastic and I absolutely recommend it.

I fucking love Antonia Crane.

If you get a chance to see her read or take a class with her do it and tell her I sent you.

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Bodies Made of Smoke. A review.

So not long ago I bought some books from Mr. J. Bradley.

Out of the tasty parcel of pretty little books I picked ‘Bodies Made of Smoke‘ to read first.

Go here to see where you can buy it.

First because I’m a nerd about these things let me talk about how pretty this little book actually is.

book1

Terrible picture but look at it. That lovely starry design wraps around the whole book and it has a matte finish and I find it all terribly aesthetically appealing

Yes, I am kind of a fool for a beautiful design and this one just tickles me.

Now on to the content.

If you are a lover of linear stories that will make perfect sense immediately, this is probably not going to be your jam.

This novella is dreamy, strange and beautiful. The way J. Bradley uses language and the formatting of the language slows down the eye so the reader can linger over the prose. I love that. Slow me down, I read very fast (with an excellent retention rate..yes I am bragging) and when I feel my eye drag on really beautiful prose I am very pleased.

Look at this here.

words

 

Look at that typography.

Also can we talk about the top paragraph?

Mr. Bradley does this thing with this simple clean style that is still, the whole thing is just done beautifully.

So in my entirely not professional opinion this is a very beautifully done novella. From the time you have it in your hot little hand until you read it it will all be fucking great.

I actually read it twice because because I loved it. Also if you haven’t read more of Mr. Bradley’s work this will make you want to read it. I have some more of his work chapbooks and stuff I will be reading/savoring them and talking about them later on.

So go buy this book. Read it. Feel dreamy and I have to mention that some of it (I am trying not to be spoilery) hit this special delighted nerd part of my soul in a way that speaks to me on a deep level and gives me abject joy.

JOY people.

This is a beautiful thing. This is what I’m greedy for. I love it.

Thank you J. Bradley for bringing me some joy. I dig it.

When she makes magic.

Full disclosure.

First you should know that all I’m doing today is talking about my dear friend and someone I admire and love deeply Remittance Girl.

If you’re not familiar with her work, go back and read this entry with an interview I did with her.

Okay let’s get started.

First of all for background I was reading RG years before I ever said hello. I don’t recall if it was a writers list or via twitter or whatever but yes, I adore her.

Next I need you to read this post from the ERWA blog that she wrote.

If you don’t want to read it now read this bit:

But our challenge, as writers of the erotic, is to take that on. Not to flinch, not to look away, not to cheat by reducing the acts or the characters we write to caricatures or myths, or take refuge in the more socially acceptable sanctuary of romantic love.  And that’s why, unless our culture changes radically, we will always be transgressors in the literary world when we pursue the task of writing the erotic.

Now this is from the end is and is the part that speaks the most to me personally as an author.

Over the years I have realized that the work I do that moves me, that makes me feel the best as an author are always the things that hurt. They smart. In the last say five years or so, I have really tried to unlearn restraint.

Especially when it comes to writing erotica.

If you look at the story I posted the other day, this is clearly not a woman speaking who is necessarily after the warm gooshy feelings of love. She wants fuck. She wants degredation and to be punched in the mouth. In another story I have tucked away, the two characters are not quite hate fucking but absolutely not making love.

They are complicated.

I believe RG is correct about this not flinching being one of the reasons erotica will always be transgressive.

Outside of the usual heteronormative framework of boy meets, girl, dates, maybe fucks eventually everything turns out okay in the end, every other desire becomes transgressive.

More so if you consider that this framework is part of the White heterosexual is the default, everything else is outside of that and therefor becomes a transgression simple because it is not that.

This is not something I will argue about because it’s simply true.

Even in the context of LGBT fiction, anything outside of the very normative whiteness of it all is outsider.

This is something I wrestled with once upon a time. When I thought the only sites who would publish me would be the odd erotic website. Back then, I wrote what I felt I had to write in order for my writing to be published.

Everyone in my stories was thin, white and beautiful.

I hated a lot of them but I wrote them because sometimes I made a little money but mostly I just wanted my stories to be read.

Because I am not into those things, the normative ideas about sex beauty and romance, I spent a lot of time just trying to make it work. Occasionally I got in my subversive ideas. A lot of the time those “subversions” included such shockers as interracial sex that was not focused on the aspect of OMG BLACK ASS, fat lusty women without any fat asshole tropes or objectification, drugs all sorts of shit.

And then I stopped writing erotica all together save for filthy little things I sent to friends or kept for myself.

It is frankly exhausting to produce work that you know is outside of a.) what is selling like hotcakes and b.) will be challenging to people who rely on normative things for comfort and enjoyment.

Let me say here as well that if what you like is boy meets girl happily ever after type things, that is perfectly okay. If you read 50 Shades of Grey and think it is the epitome of awesome that’s great too.

For the people who don’t feel that way or need something different things can be exhausting. It’s demoralizing to a degree. It’s a hard spot to get through.

Back to RG.

As we know I love her work.

I just recently bought this book by her on kindle and have been reading it on my phone.

I’m going to try not to give too much away here.

So the main female character Sophie, I can’t stand her. I want to gag her and slap her. This is when RG does magic, because of my dislike of Sophie I love the male character that much more. The way he is written and how he treats her makes me empathize and want to see Sophie evolve as a character which, as I get further into the book is done masterfully.

This is why I love RG’s work so much and the thing I need to be turned on.

And yes, this story is hot stem to knee (I’m not quite to stern yet).

Frequently heterosexual sex doesn’t do it for me but because this is so well written, it’s fucking hot.

I’m saying you should read it.

Also she has a new book out which I will be buying sometime soon and you should read that one as well.

What I’m really saying here is that, I need from both the creative end and the enjoyment end for things to have some roughness. I don’t need pretty white people having nice safe sex.

It keeps me going. It turns me on. It gets me off.

In a world full of so many things that annoy, hurt and bore me writers who do this kind of magic keep me going.

It’s what I strive for in my own writing.

In summation, Remittance Girl=mother fucking beauty and I am eternally grateful for having discovered her and other authors like her.

That’s all.

 

Roxane Gay’s Ayti. A review and talk.

I held on to my copy of Ayti for quite a while after buying it because I was really looking forward to reading it.

I have been a lover of Roxane’s work for quite a while. You should go check out her work.

In Ayti the reader is presented at first look   with a piece called Motherfuckers. For me as a reader, I felt comforted. Even if I hadn’t read a lot of Roxane’s work previously, that opening story would put me in an at ease place. As I read I felt very comfortable in saying this writer is my people.

I say my people but not because I am Haitian which I’m not, but because her stories are not just pretty to be pretty. They are beautiful and some of them hurt. I am as I have mentioned, a bit of a masochist when it comes to reading. All my favorite writers hit a very particular sequence of emotional buttons with me.

Roxane was standing on those buttons.

When it comes to women writers, I have a special love for women who write in and on the body. A lot of Roxane’s work is very rooted in the body. Bitter flavors on the tongue, emotional pain that the reader can feel on their skin.  There is texture and weight to how she describes warm sand or a hot night.

If I had my way this book would be required reading for those who only ever read Fucked up White Dude/Manic Saveable White Lady fiction.

This is an antidote.

I honestly wish I’d had books like this when I was a teenager and writing away trying so hard to emulate the stories I loved but that did not resonate with me beyond their beauty. So yes, I highly recommend reading this book.

Beyond how much I love this book aesthetically, there are some very crafty things in this book.

This (you get no context buy the book) sentence hit me hard.

I cried to wash us all clean.

By itself, the thing I love about this line is the repetition of the C sound, cried and clean respectively.  The cadence of that and the way I read made for a major moment of impact. I slowed down as a reader and lingered at this, I read this section of this story a few times just because of this sentence and that in my eyes is a masterful moment.

As I read this book being that it is a collection of stories, I felt the care that went into them.  I like that.

I truly admire Roxane and her work. Even if I didn’t know she’s a pretty cool person, I would still really feel her work down deep.

And I have a cold so I’m going to wrap it up some.

Seriously go check her out and then report back.  The next review will be Daniel Fights a Hurricane by Shane Jones. I won a copy of this book over at HTMLGIANT without ever having read any of his work and I really enjoyed it. Now go forth and read some stuff.

Fantasy Moderne.

If you weren’t already aware years ago I was a huge huge lover of fantasy as a genre. From my obsession with Arthurian myth (starting around age 9) to Dune, to the Last Unicorn etc I have been a lover of fantasy tales and fantastic magic, myth and monsters.

As I got older and tried to read a lot of fantasy I started having a problem.  The same problem I frequently have now which is, where are the Brown people? Why is it always European derivative? Where is the miscegenation? Where are the Black brown or non exoticized Asian people?

Because I am a person of color I have had to learn how much Whiteness I can tolerate and still enjoy something.  Which means essentially that every kind of media I take in, TV/books/music etc I have to be aware of when I’m getting angry about erasure or othering. I have to be aware when I should put down the book or turn off the TV and give up.

In the past few years that is where I found myself with SF/F lit. After what was it Racefail 09 and subsequent seeing a lot of White authors showing some serious ass I gave up on modern SF/F aside from trusted authors.

And then along came PodCastle.

I’m not sure what story drew me in. I already was a fan of one of the other podcasts in the Pod Kingdom.

So what is important and wonderful about what PodCastle does?

The first thing I noticed after being a listener for a few months is that they do diversity correctly and without expecting a pat on the back. Within a couple of months I”d heard stories from authors of color, Queer authors. Authors from all over the world.  From the fan perspective who yearns for these things without having to search hell and high water this is fucking awesome.

Also awesome is that they don’t spend a lot of time talking about having a diverse selection of stories because it’s clearly evident that they do.

Editors who don’t know what to do about representation, regardless of what you print could take a lesson here.

As a writer who would really like to try her hand at some Magic laden fantasy (beyond one I already wrote and will tell you about in a minute) looking over what they publish even at a casual glance through the archives it’s very clear that my Queer Black self would be welcome without them having to say so specifically.

As a someone who could given the chance submit there, it is really a beautiful feeling to see that I wouldn’t have to look at my work and say well, this story is really queer or has a lot of POC in it and I don’t think it would fit in. That feeling is sad and terrible. As an author it can grow to heartbreak proportions because sometimes even if editors say that in theory they are open to these stories but never print or run them, who cares?

Through Podcastle I have been exposed to some writing that has opened my eyes to what’s going on right now in the industry and that there are alternatives to the Whitest of all Worlds fantasy I had been seeing.

Now some individual recommendations.

Edited to add. After I finished this entry I went and listened to the story by Nalo Hopkinson Ours is the Prettiest. It’s fantastic. Not only did she read it herself which tickles me to no end but part of this and I am so intrigued by the stories from the Bordertown Series that I’ve heard.

Fable From A Cage by Tim Pratt is an excellent story.  There is a recurring line/image in it about hands of air and fire that I think is just gorgeousness.

Buried Eyes  by Lavie Tidhar. I’ve actually listened to this story about four times. The world Tidhar has created does what good fantasy does for me and it makes me want more. I want to know more about it and explore it.

In the Stacks by Scott Lynch. This episode is more akin to an old school radio play as it is performed by a full cast. I love this story. From the setting of this wild magic library to the fact that there are POC characters who are not defined by their otherness or presence in that world. A welcome thing. Also this story is just really well written and again is one that makes me want to know more about the world.

Last link for now. My absolute favorite story I’ve heard at PodCastle to date The Interior of Mr. Bumblethorn’s Coat by Willow Fagen. The world in this story is so intricate and I actually have listened to the story several times and I still am not totally sure I got everything. Also this line:

At the sound of his voice, a cluster of dark red roses turned towards him.

Just tickled me. The image of that happening at that moment in the story just makes me smile.

Now I really urge those of you who are like me and love being read to check out PodCastle. If you do come back and tell me what stories you like.

Oh I said up there I’d talk a little about my own forays into fantasy.

Once upon a time about six years ago I wrote an entire alt-history from the time period just before the rise of Babylon up through the year 2000. I used this alt history to um, entwine an alt history having to do with Merlin as an immortal creature and him waking up with a whole new mission involving this very old sorceress/seer/presumed goddess  turned vampire from Babylon.

I wrote that for Nanowrimo years ago and the only person who ever read it was my best friend.

I may if I can find it, clean it up some and offer it as a free novella.

If anyone would be into that, that is.

Okay now I’m off.

The takedown is this. Go forth and experience the awesomeness that is PodCastle.